Friday, October 31, 2008

Guide: Greenmarket In The Fall

My family always seems to gravitate towards farmer's markets wherever we go.  Even when my sister and I were growing up, when it was not as fashionable to be so painfully organic and sustainable and local as it is now, my mom dragged us to several different markets a week.  

Even on family vacations we seem to seek them out.  In fact, the underside of the mini-van once was sacrificed to the farm fresh gods on a particularly ill-fated attempt to pull off the highway for some fresh corn on our way up to Eureka one summer.  Someone's bumper had fallen off (we were not in what you would call an urban area) on the highway off-ramp on the way to the corn, we ran over it and ended up cooling our heels in the parking lot of a mormon church while gas gushed out of our car and the local haz-mat team threw rice hulls over the "spill site".

Anyway, this history of mine practically demanded that I seek out a farmer's market immediately upon moving to New York.  Thankfully the Union Square Greenmarket wasn't too hard to find.  Now, on pretty much a weekly basis, I grab the market bag that Robin made for me years ago (by the way how cute is this?  She sewed it out of oilcloth and bought some leather straps...which are literally the perfect length...from some woman on Craig's about resourceful), and make my way uptown to shop.

Late October/early November is not generally a time when people rhapsodize about local produce, but if you don't mind the cold, there's something pleasurably rustic about wandering around among apples and squash with the aroma of hot apple cider in the air.  So to encourage you all to brave the cold and the battleship sized baby strollers, here's a guide of my favorite vendors at the market.

Ronnybrook Farm Dairy - This is no secret, you can buy the milk in Whole Foods for god's sake.  But it's cheaper here at the stand ($2.25 for a quart of milk, assuming you bring your previous bottle back and get the $1 deposit back), the guys who sell it are sweet, plus they sell their amazing butter, yogurt, creme fraiche and kefir drinks here (although I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of their ice creams).  Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Van Houten Farms - I discovered this one on a very rainy day on which I had forgotten an umbrella and took shelter under their tarp.  I ended up talking with the guys for a while, and came away with five pounds of cucumbers.  This one is great for basic veggies, like cauliflower, bell peppers, squash and cabbages.  Prices are very reasonable.  Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Yuno's Farm - This is the Dean & Deluca of the Greenmarket.  It's a little pricey, but everything is perfect, and they have the most interesting variety of vegetables, most of which are Asian.  They are almost always cooking something I've never heard of for people to taste, so you're rarely buying something blind.  I particularly love the shishito peppers, and the Japanese sweet potatoes (they taste exactly like chestnuts).  Mondays and Fridays.

Locust Grove - Best apples in the market.  Tons of varieties, and although they are on the more expensive end ($2-$3 per pound) they never disappoint.  Plums in the summer are pretty good as well.  Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Oakgrove Plantation - You have never seen so many different kinds of peppers in your life.  Literally.  I did not even know that chocolate habaneros or a hungarian wax peppers existed.  This is the place to go if you need to gather ingredients for Bobby Flay's amazing Red Beef Chili.  Also, the peaches in the summer are the best in the market.  Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays.    

The Cheerful Cherry - As the name would suggest, this place has phenomenal cherries in the summer, both sweet and sour.  In the fall they turn their attention to concord grapes, and concord grape juice.  This year is the first time I have ever tasted a real concord grape, and let me just tell you they are intensely flavorful, just a really interesting taste.  The juice (which I believe is totally unadulterated by additives or sugar) is almost like syrup.  Definitely worth a try.  Fridays and Saturdays.

Flying Pigs Farm - Another descriptive name, this place sells all sorts of pork products.  It is obscenely expensive, but the meat is beautiful.  And if you need any unusual cuts this is the place to get them.  Fridays and Saturdays.

Binder Farms - If you're in the mood to plant an herb box, this place should be your first stop.  The most beautiful, and as it turns out, hardy, potted herbs you can find, in or out of the market.  Saturdays.

The River Garden - Lovely flowers.  Not the cheapest in the market, but huge selection and nice arrangements.  Bouquets tend to cost between $7 and $10.  Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Cato Corner Farm - Amazing cheese.  My standby is the Brigid's Abbey (mostly because it's the cheapest) but if I'm in the mood for a treat I'll have them recommend one of the other beautiful options.  Haven't tried one yet that hasn't been a revelation.  Saturdays, and first Wednesday of every month.

Knoll Crest Farms - I actually think that it's very important to buy fresh eggs as opposed to those from traditional supermarkets and bodegas.  The difference in taste is extreme.  And actually, thanks to Kenny Shopsin's book, now I know why.  Some eggs that you find in stores have been in carefully controlled storage environments for up to ONE YEAR.  Gross.  So Knoll Crest is my go-to for eggs.  Always reliably good, and the price is in the realm of reasonable ($3-$4 depending on type of egg).  Wednesdays and Saturdays.   

Just a side note:  I don't know why, but eggs seem to be the most expensive thing in Union Square these days...I've seen them for up to $10 per dozen!  Although I must say that last time my mom was in town she got me a dozen eggs that cost $8 and they were unbelievable.  The yolks were literally orange, and they just tasted so rich.  On a certain level you could kind of taste the grass that the chickens must have been feeding on.  I have been searching for them ever since but sadly (or perhaps fortuitously), haven't found them.

Caradonna Farms - Excellent italian plums, and if you want solidly good apples at good prices, this is the place to go.  Saturdays.

Paffenroth Gardens - This is where I go for almost all of my vegetables, particularly root vegetables.  Not necessarily as sublime as Yuno's, but their prices are very reasonable, and they have an excellent selection.  Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Hodgen's Farms -  Much like Van Houten's, this is a great stand for fairly basic vegetables like cauliflower and tomatoes.  At the moment they actually have some beautiful romesco cauliflowers (green and sort of alien looking...if you're mathematically inclined, I will tell you that it is basically a fractal).  During the summer they have cheap and cheerful flowers as well.  And the woman who runs it is very sweet.  Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Philip's Farms - This stand is probably best known for its jams but I actually love it for the gorgeous flowers they sell on Wednesdays.  Lately it's been giant bouquets of dahlias (only $7!  and they are GIANT), but now they're moving more towards eucalyptus branches.  Flowers on Wednesdays.  

The Lower East Side Ecology Center - Now this last one is going to reveal me as a dirty hippie, but this organization comes to the market to collect compostable kitchen scraps, which they take to their facility to compost into rich soil.  I realize it seems like a bit of a pain to bring your trash with you to Union Square, but I've really found that it's not.  I leave a container by the sink that I drop peelings, old bread, old vegetables, etc. in, and then if I know I'm not going to make it to the market in the next few days, I just put the scraps in the refrigerator or freezer until I'm ready to go.  It really has been amazing to see how little trash Paul and I generate since I've started doing this.  And if you are potting any plants or just want to fertilize the ones you have, they sell soil for $1 per pound.  And actually, to my great surprise, I saw their soil for sale in Whole Foods yesterday, which I guess means they are moving up in the world.  Great to see. 
So here you have it.  The Greenmarket is a wonderful resource for us nature-starved New Yorkers, and provides a rare opportunity for us to connect with those who grow our food.  Take advantage of it soon and often, as a fair number of the vendors take off a few months following either Thanksgiving or Christmas!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Geeking Out

Kearney, who is much more book obsessed than I (in a two week span down in Brazil last winter I literally saw her go through at least five books, it was humbling to say the least), just introduced me to GoodReads, which is essentially Facebook for bibliophiles crossed with a book version of Netflix.  

You can add friends, see what they're reading, what they've read, what they thought of the books they've read (the Facebook part), and you can while away hours and hours reviewing books you've already read by clicking between one and five stars (I spent at least 50% of my time at my first job in New York doing just this on Netflix).  So far quite entertaining, and an excellent way to indulge my geeky side.  

The site also provides an easy way to keep track of books you'd like to read...highly superior to my current method of writing down titles on scraps of paper floating around in my purse when I come across books that seem interesting (mostly when I'm in McNally-Robinson) and then emailing them to myself.

Another book-related recommendation:  if you like books but still haven't made the transition over to using the library, check out PaperbackSwap.  People looking to unload their books in exchange for other titles post them on the website.  If you're interested in the book all you pay for is the shipping.  You get credits for posting books, which are then redeemed when you request a book.  The Wall Street Journal explains it all here.  Great site, and tons of titles.  And the whole recycling/reusing aspect is so very now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meat And Veg For One

I've extolled the virtues of cooking for yourself before, and the luxury inherent in cooking a dessert for no one but you.  Now it's time to cook yourself a complete, balanced meal.  I realize that this directive sounds a bit fuddy duddy, but there's something exquisitely adult about sitting down to both a meat AND a vegetable (and possibly a carb) that you have prepared for your own consumption.  The ideal combination?  Pork chop and cabbage.  Quick, delicious, and decadent (relatively speaking).

Sauteed Pork Chop

1 center cut pork chop, approximately 1/2 pound (bone in)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt (kosher or Maldon)

Allow pork chop to come up to room temperature.  Use your judgement on the timing here, but the idea is just to get the chill off of the meat so that the outside doesn't burn while the inside remains raw.  Obviously do not to leave it out for hours on end.

Heat cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  

By the way, if you like to cook even a little bit, I highly recommend getting some cast iron cookware if you don't already own some.

Cast iron is actually really cheap...pans like the ones above cost in the $30 range and they last forever.  Literally.  I am currently using a pan from Erie Pennsylvania that my ninety-eight year old grandmother used to use back when she still cooked.  But I digress.

Once pan is heated thoroughly (probably about five minutes) add oil to pan.  While oil is heating up, salt and pepper each side of the pork chop, and place chop in pan.  When a good crust has formed on the chop and it is cooked approximately halfway through, turn.  Once chop is cooked completely (there should be only a faint hint of pink in the middle), remove from pan and let rest for five minutes.  

Note:  Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of the meat, but I generally find that five or six minutes per side will do it.

Sauteed Cabbage

1/4 of a head of cabbage
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ginger, finely grated
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
salt to taste

Shred cabbage (I usually just use a knife, but you could do it in a food processor if it's easier).  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat until foamy, and add caraway seeds.  Saute seeds for fifteen seconds, then add ginger and stir a few times.  Add cabbage, and stir fry for 30 seconds to a minute, taking care not to burn caraway seeds or ginger.  Add stock or water, salt to taste, and cover.  Cook covered for two to three minutes, until cabbage is tender but not mushy.  

Serve alongside your beautiful burnished pork chop (and a roll with butter if you are in the mood for starch) and enjoy in perfect solitude.

Jumping On The Bandwagon

I seem to be doing a lot of jumping on bandwagons for instance, and also here.  As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I plan to jump on one more today.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for 19 weeks, and I think Oprah even selected it for her book club.  Actually, no, who am I kidding?  I know she selected it because I love her.  I watch her show more than I would like to admit.  I occasionally even go to her website and page through O Magazine in bookstores.  And yes, I realize that she thinks she's Jesus Christ.  I don't care.  Frankly, she may very well be.

Anyway, I just finished reading this book and loved it so much that on the off chance that people haven't heard of it through one of the channels listed above, I felt the need to feature it here.

The writing is truly beautiful....evocative, lyrical, but without the grand flourishes and complex vocabulary that lesser writers often resort to in an effort to impress the reader.   It just paints an extraordinarily vivid picture, and gets you inside the head of each character.

I won't go on too much about the story since it is fairly suspenseful and mysterious, and I think that the less you know about it going in the better, but suffice to say it is not simply "a story about a boy and his dogs", which seems to be the blurb the marketing people have settled on.  This is much much more than an adult version of "Where the Red Fern Grows".

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why I responded so strongly to this story, but the best reason I can come up with is that it somehow harkens back to, and I suppose is in the style of, some of the great eras in American literature.  Growing up it was always the authors like Faulkner, Cather, Steinbeck that I found myself falling in love with.  Something about the troubled but stoic characters out in the American Midwest always spoke to me, and I liked the spareness of language that these authors favored.  It always just seemed very honest to me, and it also seemed respectful of the reader.

David Wroblewski follows in this tradition.  Although the book is more than 500 pages, it is actually an easy read.  There are no extraneous passages or chapters, just a story that flows and characters that you feel compelled to follow.  There are not too many books of this length that really deserve to be so long, or deserve the time it takes to read them.  This one does.  Allow yourself the wonderful luxury of losing yourself in a story of this length and intricacy.  You'll be surprised at how much regret you feel when it becomes apparent that the book is coming to an end. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All Around the World

Every time I find myself in one of those houses or apartments that feels like the home of some impossibly sophisticated, rich and free spirited world traveler, I get intense stabs of envy.  You know the kind of place I mean...full of eclectic, exotic, expensive furniture, art and knick knacks from every corner of the earth.  I want to be an independently wealthy globe trotter!

It's not quite a substitute for the good life, but Global Table does momentarily transport all that walk through the door to the land of the glamorous, bizarre and colorful.  Oddly, it's also totally affordable, which I suppose helps to create at least the illusion of unlimited wealth.

It's a tiny jewel box of a place, with shelves and tables lined with vivid and oddly shaped ceramic vessels, glasses, and various trays.  There really are very few items in the store that I do not love.  I do not seem to be alone in this...more often than not I seem to be surrounded by various types of stylists coming in for items to style one shoot or another.

I'm always a sucker for wooden bowls.  I think it must come from growing up among the California redwoods, or maybe it's because my dad always made the nightly family salad in one, which to this day my parents still use.  Either way, I feel like it's easy to find nice ones, but it's extremely hard to find affordable ones ($400?  Really Dean & Deluca?)  At $125 this one is not particularly cheap, but it's teak, you'll have it for years...I'm sure you can find some way to justify it.  Plus they have other shapes for $80-$90 if you prefer.

There are horn bowls for $40, snakeskin trays for $35 - $45, japanese tea sets for $54, glasses, dinnerware...the list just goes on. 

And these vases?  These probably run anywhere from $18 to $40.  I mean just ridiculous.  

I love walking into a store where I don't immediately think, god this is a rip off.  I could get this in India for 10 cents!  Never even crosses my mind here.  I prefer to think that Global Table saves me thousands in airfare instead.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dry Your Tears, Tea And Sympathy Is Here

After attending the gorgeous (and I might add, the fun and delicious) wedding of Rob and the beautiful Lisa in Toronto this weekend, I have come back feeling rather cosmopolitan.  Both of the newlyweds' families have quite recent roots in Europe, so the vast majority of the wedding guests seemed to be from across the Atlantic.  From the Austrian contingent who got up to sing Edelweiss to the happy couple, to the Welsh woman from Cardiff who complimented me on my "lovely frock" in the ladies' room, I felt like I was on some grand European tour.

And the most exotic aspect of the whole weekend?  Real porcelain teacups and saucers at the brunch hosted by Lisa's parents the following day.  That is about as non-American/non-Canadian as you can get.  As I was standing by the disassembled wedding cake daintily stirring my sugar cube into my tea, it occurred to me that although I have a cup of PG Tips every single morning, the only time I drink it out of anything other than a giant mug is when I treat myself to a pot of tea and some victuals at Tea and Sympathy in the West Village.

Now I realize that this tiny haven for all things British has been written up in virtually every publication, both here in the United States and in Britain, so by mentioning it here I am not introducing anyone to New York's best kept secret.  They even have a cookbook for god's sake (it is by the way totally charming and reads like a memoir, you simply must go and get it out of the library).  But for those who have never made it down, or who haven't made it down in quite some time, I implore you to make the trip.

First of all, the name does not lie.  Yes they serve tea, and if you are in need of sympathy, whether or not you receive it directly, you leave feeling ten times better than when you walked in.  Years ago when Zenia and I first moved to New York, this was our go-to spot for the mornings after those nights that left us feeling shattered (either emotionally or physically...or often both).  

Something about the miniature size of the shop, the lovely young ex-pat waitresses, the tough-with-a-heart-of-gold owner, or perhaps the common sense but delicious food (the shepherd's pie will impress even the most avid connoisseur of this type of cuisine...ahem, Rob), always makes you feel like someone is taking care of you. 

Now that things have settled down a bit and my life is somewhat less traumatic, I suppose I go here less, but I still do occasionally rely on a pot of Rosie Lee and their famous scones with clotted cream to remind me that I have more love and affection in my life than really is fair.   

The scones are light, the cream is heavy (but delicious, for the love of god do not skimp on this heavenly creation), and I swear the jam is the best that I've had anywhere.  It's like your old British grandmother has just sat you down by a roaring fire in her cottage with a warm blanket and a devoted old dog at your feet.  Pure comfort and bliss.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All That Sparkles

I am not a particularly Connecticut person.  My style tends more towards tatty than preppy, and I'm more comfortable on city rooftops than on expansive lawns.  But that said, the two Connecticut experiences that I've have had have been highly enjoyable.  The first was quick lunch stop at Louis' Lunch for a burger en route to Martha's Vineyard (delicious, and I love the toast in lieu of a bun), the second was an antiquing trip to Litchfield with Tira and her mom.  I think I'm even less of an antiquing person than I am a Connecticut person, but it was a surprisingly fun experience.

The highlight of the trip was unquestionably our visit to Lawrence Jeffrey Estate Jewelers.  Now I love jewelry.  Not costume jewelry, but real jewelry, and I like old (or at least old looking) jewelry.  I won't subject you to my tirade against giant nouveau diamond rings from 47th Street, but suffice to say I think they're gross.  I've found that my tastes tend to translate to expensive jewelry, which I guess explains why I don't actually own any.

But I've always loved to look, and I probably spend more time than is reasonable on the Lawrence Jeffrey website.  Seriously, how could I not?  I mean how beautiful are these pieces?

Now this last one is the real show stopper.  Tira tried it on while we were up there, and I don't think it left her finger for a good thirty minutes.  In the end she decided $39,000 was a little steep, but she wasn't happy about taking it off.  Although given that our little jaunt was at least a year ago, and the ring is still listed for sale on the website, I can only guess that she is not the only one who found the price prohibitive.

Anyway, until the day that I have the disposable income to indulge my little obsession, the pictures will have to suffice.  Sigh.  But for those richer than I, please, go forth and acquire.  Such gorgeous pieces deserve a good home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dessert for One

Although I've only spent a total of about one and a half years of my life living alone, I find that when I cook at home, more often than not, it is for me myself and I.  I've always been someone who values my time alone, so I tend to enjoy these occasions.  I can cook (and eat) whatever I want, without regard for conventional ideas about course progression (I am not averse to dessert for dinner) or nutritional value.  

There's something fairly luxurious about cooking a really good meal for yourself, and something even more decadent about cooking yourself a dessert.  If I'm in an indulgent mood, there is nothing more soul satisfying than Italian plums braised with butter and brown sugar.  

From late summer through early fall, these beautiful little eggplant colored plums can be found in farmer's markets and good produce stores (they're sometimes called Italian prunes or European plums).  Raw, they have a somewhat unpleasant taste, but once cooked, they are truly special.  I generally assume about five plums for one serving. 

Directions:  Halve plums and remove the pits.  Melt one tablespoon of unsalted butter in a small skillet over medium low heat.  Once butter is melted, place the plum halves, skin side down, in the skillet.  Place a tiny sliver of butter on top of each plum, and sprinkle brown sugar (I prefer dark) over the plums, about a quarter of a teaspoon in each plum (the quantity is a matter of taste though).  Sprinkle a scant pinch of salt over as well, I use Maldon sea salt for this (if you used salted butter omit this step).

Cook over medium low flame, turning each plum periodically, until plums are very soft, and a syrupy liquid has formed, infused with the pink of the plum skins (about 10 minutes).  If you happen to keep Armagnac in the house (due to the fact that I am not a seventy year-old man, I do not), a tablespoon or two added to the pan at the end would probably be great. 

At this point I would suggest pouring everything into a bowl, and topping with a couple of dollops of creme fraiche (I always seem to have some around, I guess because I buy it for a recipe that calls for a teaspoon and then am stuck with the rest of the tub), which will melt beautifully into the syrup.  Delicious.

As we get farther into fall and the plums become more difficult to find, I sometimes switch to apples.  I peel the apples and cut them into about eight or so wedges, and prepare them in essentially the same way.  However, I prefer white sugar with the apples, go a bit heavier on the salt, and instead of creme fraiche go with heavy cream.  Almost as good as the plums, and most definitely comforting on a cold night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where the Artists Are

New York has a lot to offer a lover of the arts.  I consider myself fairly well-versed in art, dance and theater, but sadly, I often find myself falling back on movies, dinners and drinks for entertainment, and I assuage my feelings of cultural inadequacy with the odd museum visit.  Given that conversations with my friends rarely revolve around the latest and greatest play, I can only assume that I am not alone in my lazy entertainment choices.

While working at my first job in New York, I met Sheila, a fabulous dancer who had somehow ended up in finance.  We used to go to all sorts of performances together; dance, musicals (which I have since decided are not really my thing), classical recitals, plays.  Paul dubbed her my "culture buddy".  

It was Sheila who introduced me to Play By Play, an organization whose goal is to fill unsold seats at various productions.  What does this mean for members of the organization?  You pay $99 per year, and have access to a massive variety of relatively last-minute tickets (many of them are day of, but plenty are week of) for $3.50 each.  Depending on how many seats are available, you have access to between 2 and 4 tickets at a time.  

Now as you might expect, the quality and popularity of the productions varies pretty widely.  It can be anything from mezzanine seats for Chicago or Paul Taylor Dance Company to seats at an amateur production where there is no assigned seating (I have been to these, I do not recommend them.  Although Paul did win a massage in a raffle at the beer and pizza afterparty for one particularly terrible play, so I suppose they have their upsides). 

But it is this variety that makes the organization so great.  It is easy to find out about the big Broadway shows or the plays with the blockbuster stars, but it is not so easy to find out about the the smaller performances at places like the Bleecker Street Theater or the Soho Playhouse.  I have seen fantastic productions at both of these venues through Play By Play, but despite the fact that I walk past both of these venues frequently, I would never have thought to actually attend a play at one of them had it not been for my membership with the organization.  And because the tickets are so cheap, if the show really is terrible you should have no qualms about leaving at intermission (a option Paul and I chose to exercise at a happy-clappy Johnny Cash musical).

Sadly, Sheila moved to Boston a few years ago, so I don't have anyone urging me to get out and explore the arts community anymore.  But now that I'm back in New York after a couple of years away in graduate school, I'm more excited than ever by the City and what it has to offer.  So I'm reactivating my Play By Play membership posthaste, and as I don't relish going to shows on my own, I will be roping everyone I know into going with me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Red Velvet Awakening

I had a few people over for dinner and to watch the vice presidential debate a couple of weeks back, and Gerald won the prize for favorite guest when he brought along a few giant (and I do mean GIANT) slices of the best red velvet cake I've ever known.  "Where did you get this?!" I demanded to know after simply smelling, not even tasting, the delectable confection.  With a smirk and an eye roll, he mumbled "CakeMan Raven...hello, in Brooklyn?".

So I did a bit of research on this temple of red velvet, which incidentally until that night I didn't even think that I liked, and apparently I am the last person in the world to find out about it.  Jay Z loves it, Patti LaBelle loves it, Regis Philbin loves it, Dan Rather loves it, goddamn OPRAH even loves it and she tells everybody about the things that she loves.  And perhaps most embarrassing?  The place was featured on the Food Channel!  There are not too many venues that are more mainstream than the Food Channel, and yet I still managed to miss it.

But nevermind, now that I know about the great CakeMan, I can avail myself anytime of the luscious cream cheese frosting and the moist, vaguely chocolatey cake.  I suggest that next time you are in the vicinity of 708 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, you do the same.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I Hate Cookies

I'm not generally a fan of cookies.  I find those frisbees in jars on the counter of coffee shops totally unappealing, and there are few things in life that I get less excited about than the combo platters of chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, white chocolate and macadamia nut, and oatmeal raisin cookies that come with catered lunches at everyone's office.  There're all too greasy, too sweet, too something.  So when my mom told me she was making cookies for me during my last visit home, I was touched but less than enthused.  When she told me they were vegan cookies, my enthusiasm level plummeted.

Why vegan you may ask?  Well, my dear sister has been a devoted and strict vegan for many years.  Her extreme discipline allows her to live in a way that is perfectly consistent with her world view, whereas my distinct lack of discipline (I gave up red meat once in eighth grade, but capitulated almost immediately to a particularly fragrant Italian sausage) means that I am more of a rationalizer:  I feel that we as a country eat too much meat, which encourages the production of cheap meat, which in turn encourages inhumane practices in the meat and poultry business.  Therefore I try to keep my consumption on the low side, and buy meat and poultry products from yuppie stores in the hopes that the noble beasts that grace my plate have lived idyllic lives romping through bucolic clover fields and met their end in blissful ignorance.

But I digress.  As my parents are of the unfailingly supportive, "do what makes you happy" school of parenting, my mom occasionally buys vegan cookbooks to show solidarity with Robin.  Her latest discovery?  The Joy of Vegan Baking:  The Compassionate Cooks' Traditional Treats and Sinful Sweets by Colleen Patrick Goudreau.  It is from this tome that the recipe for the greatest cookie in the world originates (and I do not use "cookie" as a pejorative here, these are really excellent).  So go forth, make these delightful morsels, and enjoy the fact that no poor cows have had to have their udders tweaked simply for your gustatory enjoyment.

Oatmeal Raising Cookies
From The Joy of Vegan Baking:  The Compassionate Cooks' Traditional Treats and Sinful Sweets

2 tablespoons (30 g) ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons (90 ml) water
1 cup (225 g) non-hydrogenated, nondairy butter, softened (I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, which are available at Whole Foods)
1 1/2 cups (340 g) firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (220 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50 g) oat bran
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups (240 g) rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1 cup (145 g) raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly oil 3 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.  In a blender or food processor, whip together the flaxseed and water until thick and creamy.  the consistency will be somewhat gelatinous.  By hand or using an electric hand mixer, cream together the butter, sugars, vanilla, and flaxseed mixture, until well blended.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, oat bran, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Add to the butter mixture and mix until well blended and smooth.  Stir in the rolled oats and raisins until thoroughly combined.

Use a tablespoon to scoop up some dough and, with lightly greased hands, lightly press the cookies to form 1/2-inch thick rounds.  Bake until the cookies are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow the cookies to firm up for a few minutes while still on the cookie sheet.  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Yield:  3 1/2 dozen cookies

Note:  I have found that these cookies tend to dry out a bit quicker than those made with butter, so if you do not plan to eat them with a day or two (probably best not to eat 40 cookies in a day or two actually), freeze them to maintain freshness.  

Also, an interesting thing I learned from this recipe is that one egg can be replaced by one tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water (so this recipe would have the equivalent of 2 eggs).  So if you're cooking, find that you're out of eggs but happen to have ground flaxseed sitting around, you're in luck!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Public Service Announcement

I realize that what I'm about to say is unusual for someone of my age, but I LOVE the New York Public Library.  And each time that I mention to a friend that I've just gotten some great book out of the library, or that I just read a wonderful book and they should pick it up at the library, my remark is met with either a raised eyebrow, an affectionate smirk or outright laughter.

People, in case you haven't noticed (and clearly the people I hang out with haven't), New York has what is probably the best public library system in the country.  And your tax dollars are paying for (part of) it!  Use it!

A tutorial:  

1)  A public library tends to have many branches.  New York has 87 branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island (Brooklyn and Queens are separate library systems).  There are 42 branches in Manhattan alone, so there is most likely one very close to either your home or office.  Thanks to some generous support from both the City and the philanthropic community, these branches are often open as late as 8 p.m., and most are open on Saturdays, so don't give me this "I'm too busy, my life is too complex to use the library" excuse.  

2)  Everything is online.  You can apply for a library card online here, you can request books to be sent to your local branch here and you can renew books online here.

3)  Any restrictions that exist are totally reasonable.  You can check out as many as 30 books at one time, request as many as 15 at one time, and keep a book out for 3 weeks without having to renew it.  If no one is waiting for the book that you have out, you can renew it up to 5 times, which means you can keep one book out for for almost 4 months!  This is great especially for items like cookbooks, which I usually want to keep long enough to try out a decent fraction of the recipes before I make the decision whether or not to buy the book.

4)  Many of the branches are quite lovely.  We all know about the stately main library at Bryant Park (or at least I hope we all do, things are worse than I thought if that is not the case), but there are many other branches that are very beautiful as well.  Now I will admit that my local branch has a bit of a junior high school library feel about it, so I avail myself of those branches serving other neighborhoods nearby.  For the longest time I would go to the Jefferson Market branch, which is the building on Sixth Avenue and 10th Street with the clock tower.  

Jefferson Market Branch

But lately I've decided that I like the exterior of that building more than I like the interior, so I've switched over to the Mulberry Street branch, which is just south of the Puck Building.  It was designed by the talented Rogers Marvel Architects, and opened just over a year ago. 

Mulberry Street Branch

For some reason, the place always smells great, sort of faintly like lavender.  Either the stylish residents of Soho somehow requested this as a condition of allowing the branch to be built, or it is simply a serendipitous side effect of being a neighbor of the delightful Santa Maria Novella store.  Either way, I love walking in the door.  If you want to browse and read magazines, there's ample window seat space for everyone, if you want to go downstairs and browse the book selection, there's lots of seating and light (considering that most of the library is below ground I think this speaks very well to the efforts of Rogers Marvel).

5)  They have lots and lots of books.  I read a lot, and I think I've only ever run across about three books that haven't been in the library's collection.  And those were relatively obscure cookbooks or design books.  Yes, you may have to wait a bit for the best sellers to come in, but if you're like me you've got 20 other books checked out to get through, and by the time you're ready, the best seller is waiting for you to pick up.

6)  You have no more room in your apartment.  If you live in Manhattan and like to read, you're probably getting run out of house and home by your book collection.  Using the library avoids this problem.

7)  Times are tough.  It's free!  Suze Orman would be very proud of your for slashing your book budget.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


When Paul and I first met, he relished the chance to introduce me to places in the city that had a bit of history, a connection to the edgier New York of the 80s and 90s.  Although the two of us both moved here permanently at about the same time, he had been coming over for work for ten years prior, so actually knew New York when St. Mark's was still punk, the Lower East Side was still hip and when there was still raw meat in the meatpacking district.  His favorite spots were generally vastly cooler than whatever establishments I, as a 23 year-old, was frequenting at the time.

One of his earliest introductions between me and the world of cool occurred at a totally bizarre restaurant in the West Village called Shopsin's.  The place is the ultimate family run, neighborhood joint.  The menu is so packed with options it makes your head spin, and occasionally your stomach turn (mac and cheese pancakes anyone?), but the strange food is good.  And they serve orange julius, a fact that instantly won me over because it's a drink my mom always gets excited about--she has good memories of drinking it growing up.

Now when I say "family run", I probably should clarify that this is not some sweet old couple running the place.  The family dynamic between the Shopsins is really closer to that that exists between the Osbournes than anything else.  Two of the kids work at the restaurant, bickering and yelling at each other and their dad pretty constantly.  And the dad yells back, vociferously.  But it's out of love.

Kenny, the patriarch of the family, is probably the figure people associate most with Shopsin's.  He's big and loud, wears red suspenders and a 70s style tennis headband everyday, and is the man responsible for the crazy menu. 

On my first visit, at the end of our meal, Paul went back to the kitchen to say hi to the man.  He was greeted thusly:  "What the #@%&?  Where the *&#$% have you been you big @#$%&&?  How the @#$%% is the music business?  It's @#$%, right?"

Sadly, Shopsin's eventually, after existing for several decades in the west village, got priced out.  Luckily they didn't shutter the business, but instead moved downtown to the Essex Street Market. 

Paul and I went down for a quick visit while the space was still under construction.  Kenny, in all his red-suspendered glory, was sitting on a stool supervising.  "How the @#$% are you?  Can you @#$% believe this place?  What's happening with this (pointing to me)?  Why the @#$% aren't you married yet?  How@#$%%ing bad is the music business?"

So apparently not much but the space has changed.  The menu is still nuts, the family still yells, Kenny still throws out people he doesn't like, and he still hates publicity (he apparently tells reporters and guidebook writers who call that the place is closed and he's just part of the moving crew).  But I was in McNally-Robinson the other day and saw this:

A book?  Kenny has written a book?  Apparently one of his longtime regulars is in the book business and finally, after several decades, convinced him to do it.  So now we all can make ho-cakes (that would be pancakes to you and me) just like they do at Shopsin's.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cheap Off-Peak

In theory I am a fan of the happy hour, but in practice it tends to disappoint.  The offerings end up being cheap well drinks, giant margaritas that resemble sno-cones more than drinks, and greasy, luke-warm chicken wings.  Lure Fish Bar's happy hour is the antidote to the otherwise bleak bar landscape that exists between the hours of 5 and 7 on weekdays.  

Zenia and I stopped by Lure one day a few years back, and for some reason it was closed at the time, but the hostess implored us to return for happy hour, she whispered to us that it was really great.  A few days later we followed her advice, and were certainly glad that we had.

First of all, the setting just feels plush and civilized, like the yacht of a sophisticated Italian bon vivant.  This alone puts me in a good mood.  There's no angling for a bar stool, no waiting patiently yet futilely for the bartender to notice that you are in need of a drink, no fighting off sweaty men in blue button down shirts sans tie.  It is the kind of place where you can have a conversation unimpeded by noise or unwanted interruptions.

Now on to the food and drink.  $5 glasses of wine.  And the wine is good.  If you are a fan of rose, I would highly recommend the rose of the day, but the white and red are good as well.  $1 oysters.  They also are good.  And the piece de resistance?  The shrimp tempura is an absolute must.  Light, crispy, and with the most delicious spicy, creamy sauce drizzled over the top.

Now I realize that there are few people with steady jobs in New York who actually have the option of attending a happy hour between 5 and 7 p.m., but everybody has the chance once in a while, so I implore you, take it, and take it here!  And perhaps with the impending collapse of the job market a whole lot of people will have the chance a whole lot more often.  The good news?  You can afford this place, between 5 and 7 that is.

142 Mercer Street (across Mercer from the Mercer Hotel). 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Truffles In the East Village

Despite my rather intense dislike of Williams-Sonoma, I was there once a few years ago.  I was killing some time watching a cooking demonstration by a local chef, and got to chatting with her afterwards.  It came up in conversation that she bought her vanilla beans from a place in the East Village called SOS Chefs, and as I'm always on the look out for new food stores, I was down there the next day.  What I found was a magical Aladdin's cave packed with the most beautiful foodstuffs I'd ever seen.

The walls of the long, narrow store are lined with boxes and bottles of perfectly fresh spices, nuts, grains, oils, vinegars and pickles.  The refrigerator in the back holds fresh mushrooms (porcini, lobster, morels, blue foot, to name a few), foie gras, smoked salmon, french fruit purees, truffles and the odd hard to find vegetable, like ramps.  Each time I come here, I end up walking out with some product that I am unfamiliar with but end up adoring.  This is how I fell in love with hibiscus blossoms (excellent for an afternoon/evening cup of tea, for a summer drink, mix the tea (chilled) with an equal part of sparkling water), and discovered what turmeric looks like in its virgin form (a small ochre colored suppository in case you're wondering).

The store is run by a Moroccan woman named Atef, and I find her to be the most effortlessly bohemian but completely chic person in New York.  Her collection of headscarves is really quite remarkable.  Although her products are of the highest quality, and I would probably make regular visits to SOS Chefs for this reason alone, she is probably why I promote this store so fervently to anyone who will listen.  And why I drag everyone (including Laia, who I think has cooked once...although the one time was triumphant) in.

She loves her customers, loves her products and loves her store, and this is clear just from looking at her.  She radiates happiness and warmth, and for this reason  I am always happy to buy from her, regardless of what ridiculous sum I have racked up.  She is consistently offering to show you something new and wonderful (and it really is new and wonderful), and imparting sage bits of wisdom:

Atef:  Do you need anything else?  Perhaps containers for your spices?
Me:    No, thanks, I have plenty.
Atef:  Of course, you are a woman.
Me:   Huh?
Atef:  Where I come from you can always tell a woman by her spice cabinet.  Her spice cabinet and her bathroom.  Have a beautiful day!

Now I found this exchange funny because I do literally have a cabinet dedicated to spices, and my bathroom is the only room in my apartment that is consistently clean and organized.  Paul, you are a very lucky man.  Atef says so.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Keeping The Doctor Away

The Greenmarket is full of apples now, and there seem to be more varieties than ever.  I love this time of year;  apples are one of the few fruits that New York does better than California, which means that I'm never homesick in the fall (unlike the summer, when I miss good peaches, plums, nectarines, melons and low humidity).  

Like racehorses, I tend to pick apples based on how much I like their names.  This is how I stumbled upon the glorious GoldRush.     

It is my new favorite eating apple, and has quickly surpassed my old standby, the Honeycrisp (see what I mean with the names?  how delicious does Honeycrisp sound?).  I've unfortunately only found one vendor that sells them so far, so will be stocking up posthaste.  I strongly suggest you do the same!

Bunch of Winos

On a quiet Friday evening a few weeks ago, Marissa and I, after deeming the wait at 'ino to be too long, wandered around the corner to Downing Street and happened upon what looked to be a tiny wine bar.  We didn't immediately see a sign or a menu, so were standing outside uncertainly when a friendly host came outside to invite us in.  Turns out the establishment is the Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar, the newest addition to the Blue Ribbon mini-empire.

As one would expect from the Bromberg brothers, the food is good (our dish of the night was the simple but totally delicious manchego and honey), the vibe is warm and relaxed, and the wines are thoughtfully chosen.  And what sets this bar apart from the other excellent places like it in the city ('ino, 'inoteca, Bar Jamon, etc.) is that you actually can get a seat in a reasonable amount of time.  About 80% of the crowd seems to be waiting for a table across the street at Blue Ribbon Bakery, which means that the turnover is quicker than normal.

I made a repeat visit recently with Zenia, again on a Friday night, and had the same lovely experience.  No wait for a seat, and although I wasn't the hugest fan of the oysters they were serving, the chicken wings (a dish I generally avoid like the plague) were a pleasant surprise, as was the Hummingbird cocktail.  And this second time around I also noticed that the bar offers trios of wines, a feature that I fully intend to take advantage of on my next visit.

Now I am apparently a bit late to the party on this one, as Time Out New York readers already deemed this the best wine bar back in April, but hell, it's still good!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Everything Old Becomes New Again

One Saturday a few weeks ago, Amy and I were having a wander after a leisurely brunch at Cookshop, and eventually found ourselves in Soho.  Since we were down there, she insisted on showing me her favorite furniture store, Depression Modern.  

Given that Amy's taste is impeccable, and I was fairly sure she wouldn't subject me to anything in the much reviled (by me, that is) Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware/Crate and Barrel genre, I was more than happy to oblige.  

As promised, this store is an absolute gem.  The pieces all look like they are straight out of a very chic house from the 1930s (in some cases they are, but everything is beautifully restored).  Lots of clean lines, high gloss finishes and rich dark woods.  The pieces seemed consistently to be solid and well-made, which frankly I find to be an increasingly rare thing, even at high end stores.  And the best part?  The prices are actually REASONABLE.  No $10,000 dressers here.  ABC Home and others, it wouldn't hurt to take a page from Depression Modern's book!        

One insider tip that Amy let me in on:  they get a new shipment in every Saturday, so get there early and go straight to the basement for first dibs.  Everything not sold over the weekend gets moved upstairs to their showroom.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Summer Fairy Tale

The flower vendors at the Union Square Greenmarket are now starting to sell bunches of eucalyptus rather than bunches of dahlias, and I'm seeing more apples than peaches these days, which I guess means fall is pretty much here.  For the most part I'm happy about it.  I tend to get bored of the warm weather by the end of summer and generally welcome the resurrection of all things wool every October.  My one regret this year is that the adorable little fairy tale eggplants (they're only a couple of inches long) that I've been snacking on all summer will soon be gone from the market.

To prepare these little beauties, I cut them in half lengthwise, sprinkle the cut side with some flaked salt, sautee them in olive oil over medium heat for three, maybe four minutes on each side, et voila, the perfect snack!  They are creamy and smooth, and taste almost nutty once cooked.  Also the squeamish child in me is thrilled that the seeds are microscopic.  Sadly, I suspect that I will not derive such joy from the upcoming winter squash harvest.

Worth Reading

I'm not a history buff by any stretch.  I tend to leave the 700 page David McCullough tomes to those made of sterner stuff than I (ahem, Dad).  But I do like history (as long as it is spoon fed to me), so when I read about One Minute To Midnight,  which was said to be a relatively easily digestible version of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I picked up a copy.

I don't intend to write about every book I read, but with this one I felt compelled.  Aside from the fact that it did turn out to be altogether readable (you almost could see it as the script of a movie), I learned a good deal from the story.  Not only about the crisis itself, which to this point I remembered only as a short paragraph in my ninth grade history book, but about human nature, leadership, negotiation, and the nature of conflict.  I feel strongly that anyone even vaguely introspective would find much food for thought in this narrative.  And be sure not to skip the afterword;  Michael Dobbs' reflections on the crisis will no doubt provoke new ones of your own.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Living Vicariously

Thanks to Open House New York, I spent this past weekend touring exorbitantly expensive, often very beautiful, homes.  The first highlight of the weekend:  Metal Shutter Houses.   Designed by Shigeru Ban, the west chelsea building has ten apartments, all of which have moveable windows, walls, shutters, all just breathtaking.  I want to live a minimalist, clean and organized life in one of these sleek cubes.  Take a look at the animation on the website, it is stunning.  The building is supposedly going to be done in December, here's hoping it lives up to the renderings.

Metal Shutters Open

Metal Shutters Closed

Metal Shutters Closed at Dusk

Second highlight:  Metropolitan Home's Showtime House.  A beautiful townhouse at 23 Gramercy Park, each room was decorated by a different designer, and was designed with a Showtime show as the theme.

The Tudors Living Room

Dexter Dining Room

I didn't necessarily love every room, but they were all creative, and certainly challenged my ideas of how various areas of a house should function.  Plus which, the house itself was pretty unbelievable...the view out the window of the bedroom was of treetops!  I was lucky enough to visit the house for free through Open House, but it is open to the public every Saturday and Sunday through October 26th, for $25 per person.  Certainly worth a visit.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin